I really love this post from Christopher Scordo “The Early Warning Signs of a Project in Trouble”; so much so, that I reposted it below.  As you can tell, the post is about identifying when a project is in trouble, and we, as good corporate citizens frequently find yourself on project teams.  If you remember from my earlier blogs, “Micro Technology Stewardship is the use of people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.”

I especially like Mr. Scordo’s warning sign titled “Corporate Leadership and Project Goals Conflict with Each Other”.  As Micro tech Stewards, one of the hardest things you will face is identifying and then acting on the issues that directly fly in the face of your corporate sponsors.  I sure if you look at your past experiences, you will find plenty of examples of gaps between the corporate leadership and the project team and I bet you, most of the failures occur when no one speaks up, or when someone speaks up it is often  too late.

it is hard to be Micro Technology leader in today’s corporations, but if you want to be a successful leader, sometimes it means taking the risk to speak up and putting in the work to carry the flag of “right”, rather than just following blindly.

Early Warning Signs of a Project in Trouble

By Christopher Scordo (PMP, ITIL) of www.PMPerfect.com  

Ever had a favorite football jersey which was starting to come apart after years of wear and tear?  You picked at the seam occasionally; only to find that one day, your jersey has unravelled completely.  This is what it feels like to have a project you are in charge of spin out of control.  Of course, if you had just taken a few minutes to stitch the seam that was coming undone, you’d have been in a much better position (and you’d still have that favorite football jersey).

Project management is much the same.  As a project manager it is your duty to keep an eye on warning signs that your project might be hitting a snag which could result in full on combustion.

Luckily, there are a few warning signs which are common in project management; and knowing what they are can save you a massive headache down the road.  Below are some early warning signs of your project being in trouble.

Team Members are Working Too Much Overtime

Simply put: when a project is running on schedule, there will be little or no overtime required from team members.  Overtime is a band aid to cover poor scheduling or scope management, and too much team member over time is a tell-tale sign that there are project management issues that need to be addressed.  The impact to team members can also be more negative than expected; late nights of sedentary work, too much junk food to placate appetites, and too much caffeine to keep team members works.  All of these indirect attributes of excessive overtime will result in poor team morale, and high turnover.  Of course, occasional overtime is perfectly fine, especially ahead of critical delivery periods.  But when overtime progresses to multiple hours on a daily basis, it is time to revisit your project schedule and calibrate client expectations to ensure a health project environment.

 

Project Goals are Misunderstood by Team and/or Client Stakeholders

Most projects have an overarching business goal, or two, or three.  The problem is that corporate leaders, project managers or even client stakeholders may assume the business goals of a given project are obvious to everyone.  So obvious that nobody ever mentions exactly what they are.  These types of assumptions can lead to a slew of project issues as team members are never quite clear on task priorities or “the big picture”.  Simply assuming that the overall business objectives of a project are obvious to all may lead to dangerous presumptions; and ultimately is a simple communication issue to resolve.

 

Poor Communication within Your Team

If your team members frequent have personality issues with you or each other, or are just not getting along well, then as the project manager you need to better manage communication.  While it is impossible for everybody to get along magnificently all the time, it is imperative that people put their differences aside and forge a business relationship.  As a project manager, it’s up to you to make sure the business relationship between people who don’t get along on a personal level is put in place, and that communication channels are kept open and flowing.  You might need to call upon the conflict resolution cavalry, but that’s what project managers are there for.  By not addressing let inter-term communication issues at the start, a project can experience massive productivity issues.  This goes for the project manager as well; it is important to understand that you are a team member, and not an emperor.  Condescending communication will lead to similar issues.

 

Project Direction is Missing or Inconsistent

If there is no direction from project managers or task leads, and communication channels aren’t kept open, your project might be in a bit of trouble.  When team members are not privy to the overall schedule of a project, or are micro-managed with small finite tasks, it is akin to removing the compass from the crew of a ship.  Nobody but the captain knows where the boat is headed, leading to poor team morale, and a misunderstanding of project priorities.  What’s worse than the absence of direction, though, is contradicting direction.  Constantly flip flopping between stated goals and objectives is a huge, red warning sign; and can indicate poor scope management on behalf of the project manager.

 

Corporate Leadership and Project Goals Conflict with Each Other

No matter how on schedule your project is, if there is conflict with the corporate leadership objectives, there could be a pending project disaster.  When corporate leadership decides to shift their business focus away from the needs of your client stakeholder, this is a red flag for your project.  For example, when an IT consulting organization decides it will no longer support a technology your client has invested in; the confidence and trust bestowed in your project leadership may plummet, ultimately leading to a whole slew of issues.   Recognizing the overall goals of your enterprise, and ensuring they align with your project is a simple way to ensure your project is not taken by surprise.  If you do notice a project conflict with regard to corporate communication, address it immediately by communicating directly with corporate management.

 

Assuming “No News is Good News”

Ever had a client that simply doesn’t return calls, either because they are so overwhelmed or because they simply don’t have the knowledge to provide feedback?  Communication among client stakeholders is absolutely critical to the success of a project, and when you find your client becoming unresponsive, it is easy for project managers to assume “no news is good news”.  This can be a slippery slope, especially as critical decisions are made regarding business objectives and project direction.  One way to counteract this issue without becoming an annoyance is to schedule a weekly status call with your client which can be as brief as five minutes.   Secondly, be sure to send weekly status updates that show exactly what your team is working on, upcoming deadlines, and any action items you require of them.   This type of proactive communication ensures your client remains engaged in a project and decreases the risk associated with an unresponsive client.  By moving along a project path with no input from your client (even if you prod them), you put your project and yourself at extreme risk.

Overall, an effective project manager must strike a balance between communicating effectively, ensuring agreement among stakeholders; and managing the three legged constraints of scope, schedule, and budget.  The warning signs mentioned are meant to be addressed immediately to avoid larger issues down the road.

 Early Warning Signs of a Project in Trouble – Project Managers.

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Have you ever worked for a technology leader who over promises and underdelivers? I know that in my career I have (quite a few times actually) and it leaves your customer (internal or external) underwhelmed and over time, completely frustrated and exhausted when having to deal with the technology department. Your customer may react in many different ways through this experience…from “bad mouthing” your leader, or to worse, bad mouthing you as project manager andI have seen it get so bad that the customer has “fired” the internal IT department and gone outside to get the work done.

Practicing good micro technology stewardship is not always about making the right technology decisions (as discussed in prior blogs), it’s almost always more, let’s look at the definition again:

“Micro Technology Stewardship is the use of people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.”

Good Micro Technology Stewardship also includes “looking inside” at your self to make sure you are using your “experience” to understand the needs of others and properly addressing those needs. When you over promise and underdeliver you are really saying “I understand what you want, I know it can be done, but I am not a strong enough leader to make sure you are educated on why it can’t be done in the manner or timeline you expect.”

I have seen so many bad product executions that could have been avoided if the technologist had only educated the business leader on the realities of delivery.  What about you, are you in a company where your leader over promises?  Have you ever found yourself having to over promise because you felt you had no choice but to “comply”

If over promising and under delivering is so bad, what about the “formula for success” of under promising and  overdelivering?  Will your customers catch on? Will they then set expectations high, or worse yet, raise them each time you exceed your own self-set commitment?

The link to the article below explores only one reason for not cultivating IT heroes.  I would suggest that allowing employees to develop a  hero mentality is not good Micro Technology Stewardship.

Creating gaps in your staff as it relates to knowledge and allowing those individuals to abuse that gap to make them self look good is not only bad Micro Technology Stewardship, it is bad leadership.  Remember the definition   – “Micro Technology Stewardship is the use of people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.” By allowing an employee to play hero, we, as leaders,  are not properly addressing the needs of the business on a proactive basis.

Don’t cultivate IT heroes – FierceCIO.

As 2010 comes to a close I find myself looking back at the year and evaluating how well I practiced what I preached as an IT leader.  Not only do I believe that all successful IT executives need to become successful at MicroTech Stewardship, I wanted to capture a few other skills I believe we all need to focus on as leaders.  Below is the list I came up with:

1. Promote Micro Technology Stewardship within the organization through leadership.  In order to develop good Microtech Stewards under you, leaders have to really commit to leadership and recognize that they are always “on stage”.  In fact, I saw that both Gartner and Korn/Ferry’s research reveals that the highest performing CIOs are effective because they embrace the idea that everything they need to accomplish will be achieved through people, by people, and with people. I know you have seen this said before, but as a leader, we have to ” build people, not systems”.

2. Think Strategic, Deliver Clear Direction. A high-performing technology leader is a complex and (hopefully) creative thinker but when it comes to leading, the message must be clear, concise and easy to execute against.

3. Abandon your 70s School of Management. 70s school of management is not a concept I have explored in this blog and I hope to in the future but it is a term I coined to describe the old school “do what I say, when I say and tell me when it is done” leaders that still exist in organizations.  Today, technology leaders need to be more collaborative than ever in order to inspire people both inside and outside their organization in order to be successful in executing against your vision.  Inspire your people to consistently deliver their best work through collaboration and motivation, inspire them to feel like they are involved in something exciting.

4. Lead sideways. Successful leaders spend a great deal of their time and energy managing relationships that exist sideways: relationships with peers, vendors, and customers.  As in the above point, collaboration is key in driving results.

5.Be a Master of Communication. Constantly reiterate your core message and values. Focus on clarity, consistency, and simplicity.  Do it with passion and make sure your message is not only understood but also felt.

Well that is my short list, what do you have to add?

Let’s keep this one short, because let’s face it, when it is ugly, it is blatantly ugly.

There was another occasion from my past where I was brought in to a company by the CEO  to “turn around” an IT department in disarray.  This department was way out of step with the company, you know the kind, they are the IT folks you read about in Dilbert cartoons.  As a matter of fact, think of the then current CIO as Dilbert’s PHB (pointy hair boss).

Since I am blogging about concept of Micro Technology Stewardship, I will refrain from telling you about  ALL of the details and just get on  to my story.

It all began then this then current CIO had the idea that the company needed a portal for all of their senior medical professionals (Medical Professionals employed by this company aka employees :)) to log into for medical and corporate information and maybe exchange ideas with each other or the company leaders back at HQ, sort of an early social network for medical professionals.

Not a bad idea you say?  I agree, not a bad idea at all, EXCEPT, he never ran this idea past the CEO, any business leader or, to make it worse, any medical professionals in the field that this company engaged with!

The result?  Very much the same as “The Bad” post; out of control spending, IT out of alignment with the corporation, other projects missing deadlines, resources misdirected, frustrated senior leaders …yep pretty much a mess at this company too.

On the surface it seems so simple, but so many technology folks do not do it… just follow good micro technology stewardship – use the people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs instead of doing it all “yourself” or doing it all within IT “cause we know best” and I guarantee you will have a better run IT department, and more importantly, a pleased CEO.

I remember a particularly good example of “bad” Micro Technology Stewardship that I would like to share today.  I was brought in to a company to “turn around” an IT department in disarray by a CEO friend of mine.

The then current VP of technology had worked for the CEO in prior companies as a lead developer and was particularly talented, especially in software development.  But, as we all know talented technologists do not always make the best leaders.

This VP had a particular habit of listening to his peers complaints and thinking to himself, “there has to be a way technology can solve this problem” and off to the internet he would go.  Now in normal circumstances, this would be a great thing, an IT executive looking for ways to solve the businesses issues, but, in this case, this particular executive would not involve the people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.  Meaning, he did not practice good Micro Technology Stewardship, he was simply deploying technology for technology’s sake.

The result?  Out of control spending, IT out of alignment with the corporation, projects missing deadlines, resources misdirected, frustrated senior leaders….it was a mess.  Had this VP completed his research and then gone to the business to involve them in solution selection and had he then identified key stakeholders and business leaders involved them in the project teams he would have much more successful.  He would have practiced good technology stewardship.

Okay, let’s talk about “Micro Technology Stewardship”.  I define Micro Tech Stewardship as follows:

“Micro Technology Stewardship is the use of people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.”

Please note that this definition does not specify these people as IT staff.  Nor does it say they are the same person.  It simply employs the concept of leveraging two types of talents within any company:

1. Technology

2. Business

But, I do believe that it is an important best practice that IT leads the way in successfully defining and deploying good Micro Technology Stewardship and treats this process as they would under any good governance process.

Let me give you an example.  In this day of social networking, there are a lot of business people exposed to this technology, be it in their personal life (LinkedIn, Facebook etc) or in their professional career (MedPedia for medical knowledge, Yelp for food services, Focus for general business,  Yammer/Twitter, etc).

Add to their familiarity with some of these sites to the messages the media are constantly sending about how they should be using the technology to further their business and you have a perfect storm.

So let’s look at the Micro Tech Stewardship formula;

Business folks who understand there may be a need for technology; check!

People who have varying experiences to take a leadership role; check!

But, can we let them lose on the organization at this point? No. we need to add process to the mix.  In this case, I recommend that IT lead this process.

In a recent consulting engagement, that is exactly what we did.  That company was a  3,000+ person company, we formed a task force consisting of certain internal “social networking thought leaders”, business folks and IT staff where we met monthly and learned from each other to see what worked and what didn’t.  From Flicker, to Google Mashups, from Facebook to Twitter, to Medpedia we examined, tailed and tested them all the while practicing good Micro Technology Stewardship to the benefit of the organization.

Next time, I think I will talk about BAD Micro Technology Stewardship as that will be much easier to come up with multiple examples.